The attention on this year’s Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) elections has been largely focused on non-policy related matters, namely the allegation of an SCSYou candidate being hit by a table, harassment of now-president-elect Chemi Lhamo of Shine Bright UTSC for her personal activism, and an anti-LGBTQ+ comment from disqualified SCSYou presidential candidate Anup Atwal.
As the election comes to a close, The Varsity looks back at the major events of the campaign period.
The table incident
Atwal was disqualified on February 5 after receiving too many demerit points. A large number of these were in response to an “unapproved” social media post, which was ruled by the SCSU’s Elections and Referenda Committee on January 25 to have contained “an unreported incident which contained broad accusations.”
In this post, Atwal wrote that candidates were “shoving, yelling, hitting each other with tables (literally), throwing things at each others posters so they can fall and you can put up yours.”
In the following days, Atwal claimed that Lhamo hit SCSYou’s Vice-President Academic & University Affairs candidate Carly Sahagian with a table, a claim that Lhamo said is categorically false.
Video clips later posted show Lhamo asking Sahagian and bystanders about the incident if she had hit her, to which Sahagian answered yes and bystanders — including Lhamo’s running-mate Raymond Dang — answered no.
Chief Returning Officer Philip Scibor handed Atwal 20 demerit points for a “Gross Misrepresentation of Facts,” and posting unapproved campaign material on social media on January 25 for these claims.
“Days after that, I keep hearing from first years when I’m going and campaigning, ‘Oh, I heard you’re the one that hit someone,’” Lhamo explained. “It sucks to have to win someone’s vote by trying to bust myths first… That is creating such a big disadvantage for any candidate because you’re having to defend yourself before you can say, ‘Hi, my name is Chemi.’”
Online harassment of Lhamo for Tibetan activism
In the run-up to the release of the election results, Lhamo’s social media was attacked with comments that mostly concerned her outspoken stance on the Tibetan independence movement.
On her Lunar New Year post on Instagram, Lhamo received about 10,000 comments in the span of a day. Other recent posts have also been affected. Many of the comments included Chinese flag emojis, personal attacks, racist slurs, and vulgar words in English and Chinese.
“It’s been blowing up since the day after the elections,” Lhamo wrote to The Varsity. “It is concerning, not so much about my safety but rather the safety of our Canadian rights.”
“This is just an example of China’s long arms, how they still think and inherently believe that they can intimidate me into not running for Presidency,” said Lhamo.
According to Lhamo, the heads of security at UTSC and the U of T President’s office are both aware of the situation.
Lhamo said, “To all the students, I’m standing tall and strong, so stand with me. I’m not afraid because I know I stand on side of the truth and justice.”
“Disgusting, transphobic” comments
Following Atwal’s disqualification from receiving too many demerit points, a screenshot of a group chat in which Atwal made a transphobic comment about Shine Bright UTSC’s Vice President Equity candidate Leon Tsai was leaked to UTSC’s student newspaper The Underground.
Tsai is a transgender woman who ran on an LGBTQ+-friendly platform. The vote count for Vice-President Equity was within a five per cent margin and has been sent to an automatic recount as of press time.
Armaan Sahgal, who ran for Director of Critical Development Studies with SCSYou, was revealed to be the one who leaked the chat.
“Someone close to me sent [The Underground] the first screenshot to see if they would publish it, then put me in contact with them and I DMed them the rest on Messenger,” Sahgal wrote to The Varsity.
“[Atwal’s] comments about Leon Tsai were disgusting, transphobic, and hateful,” wrote Sahgal. “Voters have a right to know about his views especially considering Anup’s expressed intent to appeal his disqualification and call for a re-vote.”
According to Sahgal, after The Underground’s article went live, Anup messaged the group chat, “threatening” to sue both Sahgal and The Underground.
Sahgal provided a screenshot of Atwal writing to the group chat that it’s “going to now become a legal suit against Underground AND @Armaan.”
However, Sahgal wrote to The Varsity, “I stand by my platform, I stand by the platforms of our great exec candidates such as Tebat Kadhem and others, and I stand by the electoral reform agenda we at SCSYou have put forth to the public… I stand by the electorate’s right to be informed.”
Kadhem is SCSYou’s Vice-President Equity candidate.
When The Varsity asked Atwal about the leak, he said that he did not want to make any particular comments, but that “context is super important.”
In screenshots he sent to The Varsity to provide such context, Atwal is shown further criticizing Tsai for posting about what she saw as SCSYou candidates’ mishandling of LGBTQ+ issues.
A day after Atwal’s messages were leaked, The Underground received an anonymous screenshot showing a Facebook chat with SCSYou’s Vice-President External candidate Chaman Bukhari.
In the screenshot, an anonymous person is shown asking Bukhari, “How was it,” to which Bukhari replied in Urdu, “Fuzool” and “Wohi LGBTQ [bakwas].”
The Varsity translated Bukhari’s text to “useless” and “the same LGBTQ bullshit.”
However, Bukhari defended his comment as being “grossly misinterpreted” and “utterly lacking context,” and added that it was almost two years old.
Although Bukhari knows the identity of the woman who leaked the screenshot, Bukhari told The Varsity in an email, “I refuse to stoop to tactics beneath me and I do not find it appropriate to reveal her name.”
“It is amusing how offense from two years ago can be realized when someone begins to run for office. Ultimately, it’s an inevitable part of politics and I welcome a healthy environment of criticism.”
Bukhari said that he does not hold anything against The Underground. “If I truly stand for freedom of expression, I stand for it whether the news favours me or not,” said Bukhari. “I personally loved the article… The popcorn at home has run out.”
Tsai has not responded to The Varsity’s requests for comment.
— With files from Josie Kao
Editor’s Note (February 11, 3:30 pm): An earlier version of this article suggested that in video clips of the table incident, Sahagian denied that Lhamo hit her. In fact, Sahagian continued to allege that Lhamo did.